Using the Custom Mode Dial with Sony alpha mirrorless cameras

I shoot a lot of landscapes.  My camera settings usually hang out in Aperture Priority or Manual mode, manual focus, ISO100 at f/11, spot metering, and single-shot drive.

Then I’ll be driving home and a beautiful eagle will be looking for fish.  Or a bear is staring at me from the side of the road.  Or an aerial firefighting tanker comes out of nowhere to drop retardant on a nearby fire.  Sometimes some really super-special interesting person will catch my eye.  Anyways, you get the picture.  The next minute could go something like this:

Get the camera out of the bag on the back seat!  Okay, got it.  Swap out the lens.  Set the ISO to AUTO to ensure a fast shutter speed.  Ok, Auto White Balance is set, center-weighted average metering mode, burst shooting on low speed.  Alright, got it, let’s photograph that bear!  Shit, still on manual focus and he’s on the move now.  Ok set focus mode to Continuous Auto…now which focus area do I want…how about Center.  Wait, where’d he go…uh, where are you Mr. Bear?

Wouldn’t it be way better if I could just flip a switch and have all of those settings recalled for those fleeting shots?

Well, there is.  It’s called the Custom Mode Dial, and I’m willing to bet most photographers don’t use them, let alone know they’re there.  My a7ii and a6300 have custom modes 1 and 2 on the dial; there are four more modes (M1-M4) available for recall as well, for six total.

Be warned: M1-M4 presets are stored on the memory card, not the camera.  So you’ll lose these when you swap cards or format them.

sonymodedial

As mentioned earlier, I usually shoot in Aperture Priority or Manual.  I can shoot landscapes, quickly set the dial to 1 or 2 for a special shot, then go back to A or M and my prior settings are returned.

You can also adjust the settings in these custom modes if you need to tweak something for that shot, and it won’t affect how it’s saved to memory.

Programming Custom Modes in Sony alpha mirrorless cameras

It’s really not that difficult, so long as you do everything in the correct order.

  1. Move the mode dial to the shooting mode you want to be in (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Video, etc)
  2. Set the aperture and shutter speed if desired
  3. Go through the Camera Settings menu from the first page to the last, methodically setting each item as you want them to be recalled
  4. Go to the Camera Settings menu last page (page 9 on the a7ii and a6300)
  5. Select Memorycamerasettings
  6. Scroll through the settings to make sure everything is how you want them
  7. Highlight the memory assignment you wish to use with these settings (1, 2, M1, M2, M3, M4) and press the center wheel buttonmemorysetting

You review what is stored in each memory bank in the Memory Recall submenu.

Have fun with the custom memory modes!

Here are some ideas for shooting you can save to memory, based on what you usually shoot.  I set my custom mode 1 to the settings in the scenario above for those fleeting shots, and my custom mode 2 for astrophotography.  Because I always seem to forget to either turn off SteadyShot or turn on long exposure noise reduction.

  • Astrophotography – turn off SteadyShot, crank up the ISO, open up the aperture, and turn on long exposure noise reduction
  • Longer exposure landscapes like dusk/dawn or waterscapes – when you’re always on a tripod turn off SteadyShot and set a 2-second delay
  • Location portraits – set f/5.6, an initial ISO of 400, burst drive, center-weighted metering, and face recognition
  • Shallow depth of field videography – set video to aperture mode, f/4.0, continuous autofocus, and AUTO ISO
  • Exposure bracketing – set the drive mode to single bracket, 0.3EV & 5 images

You get the idea…the possibilities are endless.  Figure out what you shoot, what catches you off guard, and set them into memory so that they’re literally always at your fingertips!

Why you should program custom modes in one sentence

I think the best reason for using this is not to quickly be able to shift between shooting modes, but to make sure that you don’t forget something important in the rush.

What kinds of custom modes do you set?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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